Native advertising is a form of content marketing, but the term is slightly misleading in that the whole point of native advertising is to market content that is not native. The idea is to plant externally-sourced content somewhere relevant, so as to maximise its marketing power.
When I first started out in the content marketing business, I was but a lowly journalist scraping for news stories to put into national papers. More often than not this is a fairly disheartening practice. I’m a decent enough writer, though I was never going to make a great news journalist. I have an inquisitive mind, but I’m not always massively cynical. News reporters by their nature often need to extract the worst from a character or situation, while the lenses through which I view the world are sometimes rather rose-tinted. Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just probably why I ended up in the business of writing things up as opposed to ripping them apart.
Anyway, I was doing this sort of work for a travel agency. I was tasked with writing advertorials for the travel supplements of national papers. You’ll know the type – full pages on Dubai or the Caribbean with perfect pictures of white sand beaches and beaming, happy holidaymakers accompanied by hyperbole, superlative-laden text explaining how this is the definition of paradise.
“You can get away from it all,” I’d write. “And then get right back to it all again with free wi-fi and two international dialling phones, conveniently supplied by your hotel.”
I originally jumped at the opportunity as, for me, the advertorial was a chance to get my writing out to a national audience, no matter how devoid of creativity it might be. Then, in a rare instance of cynicism, I questioned the point of it all.
In my content marketing infancy I did not realise I’d stumbled on a major form of native advertising – the advertorial – a piece of sponsored, external content placed somewhere relevant – a piece intended to sell holidays in a newspaper travel supplement. Makes sense if you think about it, at least more so than sticking it in the sports section. My issue lay in that it forces itself into your consciousness; it successfully intrudes because at that point in time your mind is softened to the idea of going on holiday. You’re reading a travel supplement.
Native advertising vs content marketing
This is the principle of native advertising – to enhance the user (or reader) experience by placing external content somewhere relevant, instead of just sticking up a random banner.
That was the print version of native advertising, and it can very much be considered content marketing in its raw form. The principle of native advertising extends even further in the digital world because the audience to your sponsored content can be properly targeted and their responses monitored and measured. And still I ponder the same problem – does the audience grow weary of such practices because of the nature of the intrusion? The fact that you are forced to sit up and take note of the advert because of its immediate relevance – whether that’s via a sponsored blog or a sponsored tweet, for example – might actually be a turn-off.
I asked our director, Shelley Hoppe, for her thoughts on native advertising versus content marketing:
“I’m not opposed to native advertising, but I still think it is a ‘push’ communication. It is still intrusive and pushes itself in where it may not be 100% wanted.
“Ultimately, content marketing is better because it’s a ‘pull’ communication – it encompasses good quality, relevant content that people will find useful. And they find it when they need it, by using search. They can then choose to opt in to receive it regularly, if that’s useful to them, or not if not. Content marketing gives the end user all the power and doesn’t try and guess what they want.
“I think ‘pull’ communications are still the better way to build quality relationships, but then again there is a place for native advertising too, as it helps raise awareness of whatever you are advertising in a publication that is likely to appeal to the audience.”
Innovate and engage
With this in mind it seems more and more that native advertising is becoming content marketing in its true modern sense – that is, being creative with content, telling a story and engaging users with one’s brand to build not just awareness, but trust – in order to tackle the more forceful aspect of native adverts. That forcefulness might work on someone looking to buy your, or a similar product, but it doesn’t address the users not yet in the buying cycle. With content marketing, innovative and engaging content to users in this stage will bring them on board with your brand in a way and at a level of their choosing, not the advertiser’s.
Applying content marketing tactics to native advertising calmly engages an audience that might be otherwise weary of in-your-face ‘push’ adverts. There is a place for every type of advertising out there, but on the whole in this world of very intelligent digital users, the ‘pull’ of content marketing is a bigger draw.